Lessons from Dreaming of Stanford

Lessons from Dreaming of Stanford

I bought this book at a moment where I had to make a decision between going to a summer course I had won a 50% scholarship for, or not going and being able to do a lot of different things in the next year which were also very important for me. In other words, I had to sacrifice some things while setting priorities.

Casually I stumbled upon the book “Dreaming of Stanford” on YouTube and — what a coincidence — I always wanted to go to Stanford and I was about to go to California State University. I have to say that this book surprised me. The authors although young, show a surprisingly mature and deep insight.

Here I’ll share some Notes I made.

Many people chase externally-defined notions of success

The authors share a short story about Nikhil who received a call from a family friend who wanted to enter Stanford but didn’t exactly know why when questioned.

Much like the kid on the phone, many of us strive to enter the “elite universities” but why exactly? Most likely because we heard that entering those Universities gets associated with success in our society, and naturally, we want to be successful. But is it a good idea to try entering if we don’t really have a passion which for a very specific reason would be a good reason to enter one of those Universities?

Stanford was a nice place, but in no way was it the be-all, end-all of academic life.

Don’t let other people drive you into a career that doesn’t excite you!

Have the courage to use your own understanding

… Have the courage to use your own understanding! — that is the motto of enlightenment. — Immanuel Kant

This quote struck me deeply in a positive way because it’s the eloquent version of what I’ve been feeling for a long time. You are the one who determines the choices to make which will lead you to a future with vastly different possible outcomes. If you are a student, your life until now has been determined mostly by other people. But that is about to change, you have to learn to make your own decisions! Unlearn all those conditioned authority figures and frameworks, you won’t be happy following something other than your own hearth.

Freedom is to do what you want

It’s not about having the freedom to do whatever you want, but having the freedom to do what you want.

Being a rebel without a cause might seem cool to you, but it is likely just the alarm bell that shows something is off between your true desires and your current situation.

To get closer to a place you want to be in, you have to take focused action, get organized! Being a rebel will only evaporate your effort, you will be like an excited particle bouncing around but with no particular direction.

You can’t know what you want to be without knowing what you want to do

What do you want to be if when you grow up? Many people as myself, don’t liked this typical question kids get asked. How are we supposed to know what we want to be? We don’t even know 1% of the options we have.

If you have a passion, the answer is much easier but still a question like “What’s your passion” can make people uncomfortable. We might like something we do, but it’s not like that “passion” everyone talks about. We might become discouraged from continuing to do something because we feel like it’s not our passion. But a passion often needs to be developed over time, and we won’t get there without giving something time.

Research shows that for most people, passion comes after they try somthing, discover they like it and develop mastery.

So try different things, take the “Scattershot Approach” to trying out things and give each activity some time to see if it might be something you’d like to give more time.

Cut out bullshit activities to free up time

You might think and convince yourself that you can’t possibly try out new activities because you don’t have time. But that is often a convenience lie we tell ourselves to feel better. The truth is, most of us do a lot of things — like those externally defined notions of success — that can be categorized as BS activities. Cut those out to free up time for your new activities.

Define your life philosophy

Finding and developing your passion is one thing, but you still have to have a grand vision of where you want to be in 5-20 years. It is here where you have to define your mission or life philosophy. Jim Ron’s book My philosophy for successful living comes to my mind while writing this. A book which helped me a lot to get on track a while back. The point is, you have to define the worthwhile things that you want to live by.

“I already knew I wanted to become a scientist, but that afternoon I learned from Carl [Sagan] the kind of person I wanted to become.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson

College is not the answer

So should you go to college? The authors think that a smart and driven individual will sustain herself with or without a college degree.

College can be a great opportunity, but it also is a big opportunity cost. In those 4 years you could accomplish big things if you weren’t pursuing half-heartily a college degree just because “it is the right thing to do.”

You must decide whether college is a productive step to help you achieve your overarching mission.

To find out whether you college is the way to go, talk to parties that don’t have a stake in the matter as well as parties that do.

Fundamentals are important, learn the fundamentals

If your interest is very specific it is tempting to just jump deep into that particular topic. But you will likely have problems understanding it if you don’t know the fundamentals. A good way to learn fundamentals is to apply the Feynman learning method. You should also study books like A mind for numbers which show how we can become more effective learnershttps://www.karlbooklover.com/a-mind-for-numbers-summary/.

Do things just for fun

Do some things just for shits, with the full knowledge that you are doing it just for shits and it will never be useful to you in any way, shape, or form.

If you are interested in the book, you can get it here.


Also published on Medium.